Grading all 30 teams: Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros ace first half

By The Sports Xchange
Houston Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh (31) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. on May 27, 2015. UPI/Mark Goldman
1 of 3 | Houston Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh (31) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. on May 27, 2015. UPI/Mark Goldman | License Photo

Shrewd offseason shopping set expectations higher for the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox, two teams picked by some pundits to be among the biggest winners this season.

At the break, neither team is out of it, but the White Sox are in wildcard talk and the chatter in San Diego isn't much more optimistic after disappointing starts.


The defending champion Giants are ahead of the Padres at 46-43 but consistency kept Bruce Bochy's boys well back of the Dodgers.

The Kansas City Royals are in the running for another pennant based on their first half play.

TSX correspondents in every MLB market grade the league's 30 teams at the break.


C-plus -- The Diamondbacks lead the National League in runs and have one of the most potent top-four punches in LF Ender Inciarte, CF A.J. Pollock, 1B Paul Goldschmidt and RF Yasmany Tomas. Pollock, an All-Star, already has career highs in homers, RBIs and stolen bases. After a so-so spring while trying third base and adapting to a new culture, Tomas blossomed in right field. RHP Brad Ziegler shined after taking over the closer's role, but the rotation needs more consistency.



C-minus -- While the Rockies' results this season aren't great, they essentially match the expectations. Few picked Colorado to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants -- and even the revamped San Diego Padres -- in the National League West, and indeed, the Rockies hit the break in last place in the division. While the offense is passable, led by strong work from 3B Nolan Arenado, SS Troy Tulowitzki, CF Charlie Blackmon and (when they were healthy) 1B Justin Morneau and LF Corey Dickerson, the pitching is woeful. The Rockies' 4.82 ERA is better only than the Phillies' 4.83 mark.


B-minus -- After starting the season with 20 wins in their first 30 games, the Dodgers largely were a .500 team. They built their record by dominating the lower-level teams in the National League while going just 8-18 against teams with winning records. That should be good enough to win a weak NL West, where only the San Francisco Giants seem capable of mounting any kind of a threat. However, it is not what a $270 million payroll is supposed to produce.



D-minus -- Nothing went as planned, leading to the firing of Bud Black as manager after eight-plus seasons. However, the Padres' tailspin only worsened (9-16) after Pat Murphy was appointed the interim manager. The team that led the National League in runs scored throughout most of the first month of the season has been shut out 12 times at the break. The offensive upgrades were only on display at times, making the Padres something of an enigma. The defense also performed poorly, which combined with inconsistent pitching dug a hole for the Padres.


C-plus -- The Giants learned five years ago that they don't have to start studying for final exams until September, so it is no surprise that they are barely better than average at the midterm break. Their 46-43 record at the All-Star break is just 3 1/2 games off last year's championship pace (53-43), and even closer to the marks that produced titles in 2010 (47-41) and 2012 (46-40). With RF Hunter Pence back in action, LF Nori Aoki progressing nicely toward an Aug. 1 return and two key pitchers -- RHP Tim Hudson and LHP Jeremy Affeldt -- scheduled back before the next homestand, San Francisco could have all hands on deck well before the stretch run. The Giants, who own the seventh-best record in the National League at the break, would not make the playoffs if the regular season ended Sunday.



B-plus -- The Cubs and manager Joe Maddon earned an elevated grade for executing a turnaround from the team's historic misfortunes. They've combined exceptional young talent like third baseman and All-Star Kris Bryant, second baseman Addison Russell, outfielder Jorge Soler -- either drafted or otherwise acquired during lean years -- with veteran infielders Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and starting pitchers like Jake Arrieta to create not just a contender today but perhaps an NL Central Division power tomorrow.


C -- The rash of injuries aren't an excuse, but rather a reason why the Reds entered the All-Star break 7 1/2 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. Despite losing some key components due to injury, manager Bryan Price managed to keep the club afloat. The arrival of several rookie pitchers was necessitated by the injuries but also provided a glimpse into the club's future.


F -- No doubt about it, this Brewers team is a colossal failure. Whether the blame lies on the players for not executing, management for not blowing up the 2014 squad that collapsed over the final month or ownership that didn't make changes at the top, absolutely nothing has gone right for the Brewers in 2015



A -- The Pirates were expected to contend but it would have been a stretch at the beginning of the season to predict they would have the third-best record in the major leagues after losing C Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays in free agency during the offseason and missing RHP Charlie Morton for the six weeks of the season while he recovered from offseason hip surgery.


A -- This team deserves an A, given its ability to win games despite losing its No. 1 starter (Adam Wainwright) for the season in April and its cleanup hitter (Matt Adams) for the season in May. It's also dealt with absences for its No. 3 hitter (Matt Holliday), its No. 2 starter (Lance Lynn) and its setup man (Jordan Walden), as well as the yearly Jaime Garcia DL stays. This is without question the best job that manager Mike Matheny has done in his four years.


C-plus -- It is hard to give the Braves more than a C-minus grade because of their sub-.500 record, but they overachieved most of the first half. The young rotation was good and the offense not as bad as expected thanks to clutch hitting and a lack of strikeouts. A shortage of power and bullpen breakdowns hurt, but this team was really never geared for 2015. Director of Baseball Operations John Hart is building toward 2017, and manager Fredi Gonzalez did what he could to keep the team moving forward and positive.



F -- The Marlins spent a ton of money in the offseason and came in with high hopes, which was unusual for a fan base that has a hate-hate relationship with owner Jeffrey Loria. The $325 million contract given to Stanton was the first big shocker of the offseason, and suddenly the Marlins were buyers and not sellers. But their high hopes quickly faded, and manager Mike Redmond was fired after a 16-22 start. Redmond joined the other competent managers fired by Loria, a list that includes Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez. The Marlins brought in rookie manager Dan Jennings, who has never coached above high school, serving instead as a scout and GM for over 30 years. Jennings struggled at first, but by the time he got settled in, the Marlins had already dug too deep a hole for themselves due to injuries and under-performing veterans. So far, at least, this has been a lost season.


B-minus -- A loud segment of Mets fans want Terry Collins fired on a daily basis, but he should be up for Manager of the Year and a contract extension for coaxing a winning record out of a squad that has been outscored 312-310. Pitching-wise, Collins has been aggressive in pushing the starters -- who have pitched into the seventh inning 43 times in 89 starts -- in order to shorten the bridge to Familia. Offensively, he has been dealt a terrible hand by general manager Sandy Alderson, who either can't (thanks to broke ownership) or won't (thanks to a desire to dominate every trade) upgrade a lineup that has been missing third baseman David Wright and catcher Travis d'Arnaud for most of the first half and has been hampered by the extended struggles of first baseman Lucas Duda and LF Michael Cuddyer. But Collins' mixing and matching and constant cajoling of players has generated just enough offense for the Mets, who ended the first half by scoring at least four runs in four straight games for the first time since April. Now it's time for Alderson to go get some offensive firepower to support Collins and a championship-level starting rotation.



D-plus -- You would expect a harsh grade for a team on the verge of franchise infamy, but the Phillies conceded a rebuild last offseason. Gillick said the team wouldn't contend in 2015 or 2016. Vegas projected Philadelphia to have the lowest win total at 68.5. So losing was expected, but this bad? The Phillies have endured embarrassing defeat after embarrassing defeat. But again, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Although it's tough to see amid the rubble, the Phillies are headed in the right direction and their performance at the July 31 trade deadline will go a long way in the move forward.


B -- The Nationals may be in first place, but they haven't been the runaway favorite that many pundits thought would cruise to a division crown. Harper and Scherzer have lived up to expectations, and the Nationals made a great pickup in third baseman Yunel Escobar, but injuries have left Washington without several of its biggest offensive weapons and relying on unheralded players like Clint Robinson and Michael A. Taylor. Still, it would be shocking not to see the Nats in the postseason when all is said and done.



A -- Most preseason projections had the Astros flirting with a .500 record this season, therefore their 87-win pace represents significant overachievement and warrants an A. Many expected the bullpen to showcase improvement and the 2.67 ERA of the Astros' relief corps validates the offseason investment made by general manager Jeff Luhnow. The same could be said of the offseason acquisitions of third baseman Luis Valbuena and designated hitter Evan Gattis, whose 34 combined home runs have lifted the Astros to the top of the power heap.


B -- Contradicting the Angels' strengths are weaknesses in the same departments. Despite excellence from CF Mike Trout and 1B Albert Pujols, the Angels offense ranks in the bottom half of the major leagues in seven categories. OF Matt Joyce's season-long funk is a major drag on the lineup. Despite solid pitching from LHP Hector Santiago and RHP Garrett Richards, the Angels' starters have fought inconsistency all season. 2B Johnny Giavotella has been a pleasant surprise at the plate. The 28-year-old, who never played in more than 53 major league games in any one season, became the starter in spring training and ended April batting .317. But Giavotella shares the American League lead in errors at his position and has the second-lowest fielding percentage among the league's second basemen. Giavotella and Joyce have played the most among the Angels' offseason acquisitions. LHP Andrew Heaney, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2B Howie Kendrick, could make the difference in the second half.



F -- The A's have overachieved for so long, the bar no longer is set at low-hurdles height. Arguably the best team in baseball at one point last season is all of a sudden just another club bound to be playing out the string in August and September in half-filled stadiums. Every encouraging stretch in the season's first 91 games was more than offset by two back-to-Earth doses of reality. Bottom line: A team that was 59-36 at the break a year ago is 16 games worse (41-50) this season. That's an utter failure.


D -- This was supposed to be the year that the Mariners broke their 14-year playoff draught and actually competed for a World Series. Very rarely did Seattle look like a legitimate contender over the first 89 games. The problem seemed to turn over on a weekly basis, from 2B Robinson Cano's prolonged slump to closer Fernando Rodney's disastrous ninth innings to a bench full of underachieving veterans and overworked relievers. The only constant seemed to be Seattle's inability to hit with runners in scoring position. While the Mariners are not entirely out of the race, they'll have to make a pretty miraculous run -- perhaps as improbably as they did 20 years ago, during the historic 1995 season -- to live up to expectations.



C -- If you were in school and doing average, you would earn a C, and a Texas team that hovered around .500 for the last month is about as average as it comes. The rotation carried the team during May and June when it was at its best, but the starting pitching came back some. The team struggles to hit left-handed pitching, and its bullpen is one of the worst in baseball, with the highest ERA in the AL. The Rangers made mistakes on departed bullpen arms such as LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa and RHP Neftali Feliz to put themselves in this spot.


D-plus -- A recent hot run and improved play lifts the White Sox toward a barely passing grade, with the opportunity to either rise or crash over the next two-plus months. They dug a deep hole early with 14 losses in their first 22 games and often feeble offense that managed two or fewer runs in 32 of 86 games.


C -- Expectations were high coming into the season. Many felt the Indians would reach the playoffs; some even predicted a World Series appearance. Instead, the team has languished below .500 for virtually the entire first half. The only time the Indians were over .500 was after three games when their record was 2-1. The front office deserves credit for assembling an excellent starting rotation, but the offense has been a major disappointment.



C-minus -- Detroit entered the season expecting to contend for a fifth straight American League Central Division crown but entered the All-Star break far closer to last than first. After winning its first six games and 11 of 13, the club has the worst record in the division. Injuries to 1B Miguel Cabrera, RHP Justin Verlander, DH Victor Martinez and C Alex Avila have been a factor but pitching has played the bigger part. RHPs Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene imploded after good beginnings and Verlander failed to record a win in five starts following his return. Manager Brad Ausmus deserves credit for deft handling of a bad bullpen but took too long to make corrections to the batting order. GM Dave Dombrowski has a tradition of making superb mid-term acquisitions but will have to exceed that to get his team back on track.


A -- The Royals went 34-21 the final two months of the regular season last year and carried that right into Game 7 of the World Series. With the core group returning, the Royals are braced to return to postseason and win their first division crown since 1985. The rotation is not that strong, lacking a proven No. 1, and it has been riddled by injuries with Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas all having stints on the disabled list, but the bullpen is so strong that if the Royals have a lead after six innings, it is apt to go in the 'w' column.



A-minus -- Coming off a fourth consecutive 90-plus loss season, the Twins were expected to finish last in a competitive American League Central race. Thanks to an improved rotation and better outfield defense, the Twins are in the thick of the division race and have been in the driver's seat for one of the two wild-card spots almost all season. GM Terry Ryan's signature offseason move was signing RHP Ervin Santana. An 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs has limited Santana to just two starts before the break, but his fresh arm could prove beneficial down the stretch. The signing of Torii Hunter has also been savvy; with a young clubhouse, Hunter's veteran presence -- and surprising first-half power -- have been welcome additions. First-year manager Paul Molitor has helped change a losing culture into one that believes it can win and win now.


C-plus -- This team could and should be doing better. Injuries definitely have hurt, but GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter rolled the dice on a number of role players repeating their 2014 seasons and that has not happened (see Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young). But they've brought in enough talent over the past few years at the major and minor league levels that Showalter has been able to shift around to keep the Orioles close.



D -- If not for the last few weeks, the Sox would get a failing grade. Despite a club-record payroll, they are in last place and, incredibly, haven't been above .500 since May 1. Manager John Farrell has been criticized for being too passive in dealing with underachieving players, while GM Ben Cherington has struggled to find the right mix.


B-plus -- The expectations had the Yankees pegged for a team with a grade of C but the reality is they've exceeded that and played more like a team that gets a grade of B bordering on B-plus. While they have been streaky at times, the Yankees have played well enough to be in first place. Joe Girardi has managed 46 players so far this season and has handled them well from the biggest names to the countless amount of relievers that have been promoted. General manager Brian Cashman made a smart move in getting Andrew Miller and his spending spree of the 2013 offseason seems to paying off now with how Brian McCann has performed and Jacoby Ellsbury's showing when healthy. Additionally, Cashman and the front office have done nicely in drafting or signing enough arms to field the roster of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and provide the Yankees with depth in the bullpen when reinforcements have been necessary. If there is a move to knock, it might be re-signing Stephen Drew but despite his low batting average, he has played a solid second base and hit his share of home runs. Another move that the jury is out on is RHP Nathan Eovaldi, who throws hard but can't seem to get pitches by people but he's young enough that he might be able to become more consistent.



B -- With a rookie manager and general manager and more injuries than any team in baseball has had to overcome, it's hard to give the Rays anything less than a B for collecting a 46-45 record going into the All-Star break. Kevin Cash has shown a penchant for tweaking lineups, shifting defenses, overcoming a constant slew of injuries and getting the most out of a bullpen that's been among baseball's busiest.


C-minus -- The Blue Jays enter the All-Star break 45-46 despite outscoring the opposing teams 486-404. The wins are not out of line with expectations, but the potent offense might be surprising. The run differential should translate into a better record, but a lack of consistent pitching, other than LHP Mark Buehrle in the rotation and RHP Roberto Osuna in the bullpen, has the team near the break-even point. Although the offense means the Blue Jays are seldom out of a game, it has come with a cost to the defense, particularly at left field and shortstop. INF/OF Chris Colabello has been a pleasant surprise with the bat, but he is miscast as a left fielder and costs the team runs there. He also plays first base, where he is adequate. SS Jose Reyes has been substandard defensively for years.


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